An old school site will get new life when it becomes the home of a program to train Detroit students to care for and ride horses. 

In the process, these children are expected to develop skills such as perseverance, empathy, and confidence.

That’s thanks to a new partnership between the Detroit school district and Detroit Horse Power, a nonprofit that since 2015 has been teaching these lessons to children around the city.

The partnership means Detroit children will be able to learn to ride and care for horses in the city, on district-owned land that is now vacant but will eventually house a horseback riding center. The nonprofit will pay the district $1 annually for 25 years to lease the 18 acres of property at 2701 Fenkell.

Up until now, students participating in Detroit Horse Power programs have had to be transported to suburban locations to have access to horses. The nonprofit operates summer camps and an after-school program. Generous hosts have donated the use of their space and horses.

The partnership, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said during a recent meeting, is an opportunity to bring the program to the city and eventually could lead to a career academy in veterinary studies in the district. 

Detroit Horse Power was founded by David Silver, a former Detroit elementary school teacher who saw the social and emotional benefits students could get from learning to ride and care for horses. In addition to perseverance, empathy and confidence, Silver said, students also learn about responsible risk-taking and self-control.

Silver said the program introduces children to new opportunities. Students of color aren’t well represented in the equestrian community, he said. 

The program, he said, is “breaking down those barriers of privilege so kids growing up in Detroit have as much access as kids in the suburbs.”

The programs, which are free, have served 348 Detroit children since 2015. Data included as part of a recent school board agenda show that 63% of the children saw an increase in self-control, 53% saw an increase in responsible risk-taking, and 51% saw an increase in empathy.

The district sees the benefits extending even further.

The five traits the program fosters, district officials noted in the agenda materials, are expected “to show measurable improvements in their participants’ academic performance, school attendance, and behavior at school.”

The Detroit school board approved the partnership during its October meeting. The nonprofit must meet multiple timeline goals over the next 36 months, including completing the necessary sitework within nine months of the effective date of the agreement, and securing half of fundraising commitments within 18 months. The grand opening would be 36 months from the effective date.

The exact amount needed for the effort is unknown, Silver said. A facility would need to be built to house the horses. Donations can be made here.

As part of Detroit Horse Power, students learn how to care for the horses and ride them. They also hear from guest speakers, such as veterinarians and rodeo professionals. 

Having the program in the city is important, Silver said. 

“Creating a space that our students own, that’s reflective of them, that they feel at home in, is really key to their professional growth and development.”